The automotive, medical, and aerospace industries increasingly depend on various metals such as titanium, magnesium, and aluminum for their operations. However, these metals along with other commonly used combustible materials could quickly burn in their dust forms.
If these particulates become airborne under specific conditions and in right concentrations, they could combust and cause deadly fires. Likewise, even materials that do not combust in larger quantities like iron or aluminum, under the right conditions, could combust in their granule forms.
How Combustible Metals Cause Fire in the Workplace
First off, metal dusts that could ignite fires include magnesium, aluminum, titanium, tantalum, niobium, zirconium, and cold rolled steel. However, for these metal dusts to catch fire, oxygen has to be present and so is an ignition source like heat, flames, or sparks.
A cloud of airborne metal dust around and you will have a fire
In addition, take note that not all combustible metal dusts are equal. Among the most dangerous determinants is the dust’s KST value, used for rating airborne dusts. Basically, a specific metal dust would be more explosive or reactive if it has a higher KST value.
Common industrial applications that produce metal dusts with high KST values include deburring, grinding, finishing, polishing, buffing, and sanding. Post-processing 3D-printed components could also produce hazardous combustible metal dusts.
What You Could Do
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), one should perform a combustible dust hazard assessment in the workplace. This procedure helps identify fire hazards and consequently find the right solutions specific to the workplace’s operations and limitations.
The assessment must include an evaluation of the combustible dust, its potential combustibility, the MEQ or minimum explosible quantity, and the required size of wet dust collectors tools and related solutions.
In the end, a proper combustible dust hazard assessment and the implementation of the recommended solutions based on the results ensure safety in the workplace.